We’ve got Reef Road and Juno Pier, but someday Palm Beach County’s best surf spot might be closer to Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area than the Atlantic coastline.
Surf legend Kelly Slater, winner of 11 world titles, aims to build a wave pool at Palm Beach Park of Commerce, the inland industrial park off the Beeline Highway in northwestern Palm Beach County.
Kelly Slater Wave Co., which is owned by the same group that runs the World Surf League tours, is asking Palm Beach County for permission to operate a wave park on 79 acres at the industrial development. The proposal raises the intriguing possibility of the world’s best surfers — who typically compete in exotic Pacific locales — making a pro tour stop on the Beeline.
“The project, named Surf Ranch Florida, will be proposing to construct a world-class, man-made surfing lake which will provide consistent waves and a safe environment for public recreational and competition purposes,” the World Surf League’s zoning application says.
The World Surf League is working with Palm Beach County real estate investor Brian Waxman, who’s guiding the development of the project.
“We are considering a site in Palm Beach County due to Florida’s heritage of developing world-class competitive surfers, favorable weather and numerous amenities,” Waxman said Thursday in a statement. “We hope that the local municipalities will welcome our project. We are in the planning and permitting process and look forward to sharing more at a later date.”
Slater already has built one wave park, in rural California, and it has won wave reviews for the quality of its man-made surf. Florida surfers can visit Walt Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon for artificial waves, but Slater promises a wave of much higher quality.
While Typhoon Lagoon forces water from a huge tank into a pool to create waves, Slater has said his wave is made by moving an underwater contraption through a long, skinny lake. The result is a wave that feels more natural than the swells in other wave pools.
“It’s just an amazing, amazing wave,” prominent longboarder Robert “Wingnut” Weaver told National Public Radio last year about Slater’s wave park in California. “It’s mind-blowing.”
In a widely watched video posted in 2015, Slater catches a head-high right that features him pulling into a perfectly shaped barrel that seems to peel for nearly 100 yards. Then, on the same wave, he tucks into another long barrel.
The champ calls his California wave “a freak of technology.” In the video, Slater said he has spent a decade building the wave.
“This is the best man-made wave ever made, for sure,” Slater said.
The World Surf League has yet to buy the land at Palm Beach Park of Commerce. The Palm Beach County commission is scheduled to hear his zoning request next week.
Aside from the zoning application, the World Surf League has been quiet about the project. So it’s hard to say how much the wave park will cost to build or precisely how it will be used.
The obvious question for surfers is whether they’ll get to ride Kelly’s wave, and how much it might cost. The answer so far is unclear. Slater’s zoning application stresses the phrase “public recreational and competition purposes” but offers no other details.
For the World Surf League, a predictable, high-quality wave would solve some obvious logistical problems: Organizers prefer to host contests in good surf, and if the wind is onshore or the swell fades, surfers and TV crews cool their heels until conditions improve. For its contests in Fiji, Tahiti, California, Australia, Hawaii, France, Portugal and Australia, the World Surf League typically schedules events to occur sometime during a 10- or 12-day window.
The fickle nature of the ocean all but dooms surfing as a televised sport. Surf fans watch contests live on the Internet, but the sport is rarely shown live on TV.
That might change if the World Surf League builds its park here. According to an application filed with Palm Beach County, the tour aims to show events from Palm Beach County “on a major broadcast network.”
“It is anticipated that one to two events may be held on a yearly basis attracting up to 60,000 people,” the document says. “The events would be planned to be held in the summer, providing for an opportunity to aid in tourism and fill hotel rooms in a typically slower time of the year.”
The World Surf League hopes to power the park with solar energy, and the facility would include a surf school and water safety programs.
The project’s marquee name is Slater, a 45-year-old native of Brevard County who last won the world title in 2011.
“I’m so excited that the World Surf League is working to bring the first high performance center with our wave technology to my home state of Florida,” Slater said in a statement, “and I’m hopeful this will become a reality soon.”